Bill Morris in Board Operations on September 30, 2021
Dozens of candidates for office at every level – from city council to mayor to the state Legislature – have attended virtual forums sponsored by New York City co-op and condo advocates in recent months. It’s part of the growing trend of these advocates to marshal, and flex, political muscles that lay dormant for years.
“If candidates seem to be in line with what we support, we give them an A+ rating,” says Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace co-op board in Queens, who has helped run virtual candidate appearances for the Presidents Co-op & Condo Council (PCCC), which represents more than 100,000 city residents. Among those appearing before the council were Democratic mayoral hopeful Kathryn Garcia and the eventual nominee, Eric Adams.
The Deepdale Gardens co-op, a sprawling 1,396-unit property in Little Neck, Queens, recently hosted its second candidates night. This one featured the two City Council candidates from the co-op’s district, the 23rd – the Democrat Linda Lee and the Republican Jim Reilly. The hour-long session featured statements by the candidates, followed by questions from viewers.
“It was my idea to start doing candidates nights,” says Elizabeth Gonzalez, a member of the Deepdale Gardens co-op board. “I’ve been involved in politics for years, and back in 2009 when I was working for a candidate in Nassau County, I noticed that every civic organization invited the candidates to speak. Once I became involved in my co-op board, I realized this would accomplish two things: it would be a service to the shareholders, and it would make the candidates aware of who we are.”
Gonzalez was pleased with the appearance by Lee and Reilly. “I felt great when it was over,” she says. “Our most important issue is the property tax loophole that caps annual tax hikes for one- to three-family homes – but not for co-ops. It isn’t fair. And now the candidates understand how important it is to us.”
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“The questions people asked were important,” adds Schreiber, who tuned in to the event. “They touched not just on property taxes but on the Climate Mobilization Act, various pieces of legislation, plus transportation issues in northeast Queens. For a lot of candidates, this is an educational process. They learn about co-op governance and the issues we face.”
Earlier this week, the PCCC joined eight other advocacy groups in sending a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul, urging her to sign legislation that would carve co-ops out of the Tenant Protection Act, which was designed to regulate rental landlords but inadvertently included co-op boards.
And last year, local co-op advocates helped forge a national coalition that successfully lobbied Congress to make co-ops eligible for the pandemic-inspired Paycheck Protection Program, which was off-limits to all real-estate interests when the program was introduced. That effort, which won the support of virtually every member of the New York Congressional delegation, was spearheaded by the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, who is a shareholder in a Brooklyn co-op.
“Co-ops are asserting themselves,” says Geoffrey Mazel, a partner at the law firm Hankin & Mazel who serves as general counsel for the PCCC. “This is about carving out a position as a constituency.”
Adds Schreiber, “We don’t hesitate to let elected officials and candidates know we have a big reach with people who live in co-ops and condos – and who vote. We’re working to make sure our voice is heard.”
Gonzalez says the Deepdale Gardens board is already looking forward to next year’s midterm elections. “We’re going to try to do events with candidates for all offices,” she says, “including the state Senate and Assembly, Congress, maybe even governor.”
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